For someone like me who grew up in an island province where rains and floods have become part of normal life and tropical storm alert as ordinary as the air I breathe, a text message from the Philippines about quite a similar situation wasn’t a big deal. It was simply overshadowed by my to do lists, tight saturday schedule and lack of sleep on a friday evening. As a child, which wasn’t too long ago, my siblings and I loved typhoon which meant cancellation of classes and a great opportunity to enjoy the rain outside for hours until our parents yelled “get back inside”. I’ve learned the ropes, knew how to brace myself by deeply trusting my instinct when natural disasters of any kind mercilessly hit my place.
When I was a theology student in Manila, Marikina-Riverbanks-Marcos Highway (the most damaged places) was my daily route. I may have forgotten my wallet back in the house but never my umbrella as a shield for the often-unpredictable weather condition. And since there was no school dress code, I’d normally wore shorts, shirt, flip-flops and always an extra shirt in my backpack for the unexpected.
Late Friday evening, my mother texted me that she and my sister were forced to evacuate due to the rapidly rising water level in the area. I wasn’t alarmed at all and didn’t even bother checking the news. But when she said that my cousin was left in the apartment swimming in the living room while desperately saving the most valued items and taking the electric appliances to the second floor, I panicked and instinctively got out of my bed and opened my computer. It was absolutely shocking seeing before my eyes the flooded places and numerous number of people seeking help. Around 3am, a text message woke me up again saying that Marikina, Cainta and most of Metro Manila were submerged. I may have gotten used to rains and floods but never in my entire life, had I experienced or seen a deluge like this in Manila. It was heartbreaking.
Only out of desperation would anyone climb an electric post and cling to the wiring for survival in a flooded area. Only in extreme cases would a family seek refuge atop the roof of the house. Only in life and death situations would a group of 20 make an improvised raft to escape from the storm but never made it, unfortunately. Only in extraordinary circumstances would people wade through flooded streets to get back home, see their loved ones alive and their most cherished possessions intact.
The pictures and videos posted online and shown on TV speak not only for themselves but most significantly, bring to our attention, to the forefront of our minds and hearts the need to feel the pain and suffering of others. Though separated by a huge geographical distance, the tragedy, Ondoy brought to our country was an event that calls us to examine closely our private worlds and personal preoccupations, look at our own dilemma, be positive, intensify our sense of compassion, recognize the sorrow and pain of those who had lost loved ones and valuable possessions, do something not just sit infront of TV and computer bemoaning our folks horrible condition, act in a concrete and practical manner and pull our resources together.
We pray that whenever the inevitable happens again, whenever Mother nature comes at the least expected, let the spectacle of suffering and the strong impulse of compassion time and again break our hearts…our lives…and change us…Amen.